19 January 2001

Wall of silence surrounds sale of Malton Foods

By Andrew Shirley

STRUGGLING Malton Foods and parent company Uniq remain tight-lipped over rumours that the UKs largest pig processing business is finally up for sale.

Despite reports that Dutch banking group Rabobank has been hired to handle the disposal of Malton Foods, neither company would confirm the move. The asking price is said to be £50m.

Uniq dismissed the sale rumours as "pure speculation". A spokeswoman would say only there was need for industry-wide rationalisation and Malton would be part of it.

Uniq, which was known as Unigate, is keen to concentrate on its core processed food operation and has already sold its cheese and milk concerns to Dairy Crest. There are also plans to de-merge distribution and logistics arm Wincanton this year.

Profits at the pork subsidiary slumped by 40% in 1999/2000 to £15.5m. The latest figures indicate a loss of £5.4m for the six months to November 2000.

Mooted buyers include Flagship Foods, formed from the merger between Roach and Dalehead Foods, and Danish and Dutch bacon companies.

However, Tony Ambler, Flag-ships group chairman, says: "We are not interested at all and have our own plans for continued expansion."

Other possible options could include management or producer-led buy-outs.

However, industry consultant Peter Crichton believes a radical change in management would be required for either to succeed. "Producer confidence in Malton has been low since they de-linked contracts from the all-average pig price," he says.

Maltons share of the UK kill is now estimated to be only 10-15%, down from 25% three years ago. &#42